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Top 10 Essay Mistakes

Every year senior high school students across the globe will begin the applications process to college admissions. The college application journey can be a stressful one. A large part of that college application is the essay. Most students dread this part, with good reason. The essay is the time to shine a light on who you are and to make a great impression. It’s stressful to figure out how to stand out, without being over confident. Since this essay season is almost over, I thought about common pitfalls that are usually made. So listed is 10 common mistakes that are usually made and how to avoid them. 


1. Understand the prompt.  Each part of the college application should build upon itself and keep adding to the picture of who you are. Go through the application and make sure you know how many essays you will have to write. Most applications require supplemental essays. Be sure you understand the prompts and what they are asking. Each essay should compliment each other while answering the prompt.


2. Be You. Your essay should reflect who you are, your personality and character, not just a repeat of your grades and resume. 


3. Bad topic. Your topic should not only answer the prompt but a time to engage in it. It should reflect good judgment and show maturity that will continue at college. It shows them you're ready and eager for college. Don’t be afraid to reflect on what has molded and shaped you, or what drives and motivates you. A good question to ask yourself is “What do you want the college to know about you beyond your grades, test scores and activities?”. 


4. Grammar. Nothing says “you’re not ready for college” than poor grammar in your essay. Failing to proofread your essay is a fatal mistake. While you have brainstormed your essay topic, worked on the outline and finally have it written, don’t fall into the mistake of not proofreading it. Get a second pair of eyes on it to check for flow, grammar and spelling mistakes. We all have spellcheck but sometimes the words are spelled right but still not the right word. Colleges expect their students to be college essay ready. 


5. TMI (To Much Information). Essays can be personal but should stay away from the over sharing. If your writing about personal subject matter, the best rule of thumb is to ask yourself: Would I tell this to a stranger? If the answer is no then maybe you shouldn’t share your essay. But is the answer is yes then write about it. Be sure when writing about personal tragedy, crimes against you, etc that you stick to how you got through it not the actual details of the physical act. We don’t need the explicit act detailed out. Usually the advice is to stay away from politics and religion, but if you're drawn to a political or social issue be sure to research and present both sides. You never know how your admission counselor feels about these views.  


6. Be humble and kind. Just like the Tim McGraw song, be humble when detailing your accomplishments and talents. You don’t want the admission committee to dislike you for being over confident. This is also not the time to reiterate your resume. Build upon it.  Your essay can reflect how you see the world around you as colleges want students that are engaged in things other than themselves.  


7. Off topic. It is fine to write about a person that you admire, but don’t tell me “their” story. Instead, tell me how they have impacted yours. How did this person impact you and what you learned. Stay focused on answering the prompt. Show me your personality and style.  


8. Make me feel something. Essays should not only reflect your personality but engage the reader to keep reading and wanting to know more. The best essays are the ones that clearly highlight what your values are, what your personality is like, what your sense of humor is and most importantly what matters to you. 


9. Start Early. Take your time. By starting early, you will have time to get through the inevitable writer’s block. Every student I have worked with goes through this stumbling block when thinking of how to answer the essay prompt. It’s common to think, there is nothing special or unique about you, but I assure you, there is. Some of the best essays come from the mundane everyday experiences. By starting early you can come to truly understand how you should and want to answer the prompt. Sometimes letting your topic marinate for a few days can help the creativity flow. 


10. Brand U. When all is said and done with your essay, the reader should be able to summarize your essay into one sentence. Writing in great detail can help brand an image into the reader’s brain and make the difference in choosing between two qualified candidates. When your essay is complete try branding yourself. What label would you give yourself ? If you are not able to narrow it down to a quick description, then you probably should alter or simplify your essay. 

Betsy Morris

Imagine College Coaching